Coaching Family Members

By Garold L. Markle

To coach or not to coach? That is the question faced by many family-owned business leaders when there is a direct reporting relationship between people who share DNA.  Does it make sense for an entrepreneurial CEO to conduct a performance evaluation on a son, daughter, in-law, parent, or spouse?  If you perform such an activity, can you do so in a way that is fair?  Can you be honest and direct in such an exercise without doing long term damage to your relationship outside of work?

Most large corporations prohibit direct reporting relationships between family members.  This is a luxury and design feature that smaller family-run businesses cannot afford indefinitely.  If the organization will continue to be operated by those with a common bloodline or marital connection, eventually a direct reporting relationship is inevitable.

As you might guess, my opinion is that it is not a good idea for a business leader to evaluate his or her family member.  Then, again, I don’t recommend using conventional evaluations on anyone. Catalytic Coaching, on the other hand, is well suited for both traditional use and with family members.

A couple of years ago my daughter Shanna was “between assignments” at a point in time when my business was growing rapidly and we needed help getting our office better organized.  It seemed logical to both of us that she would join the organization and lend her formidable expertise in business management to this task.

A few months after she came to work it was time for our annual career coaching cycle.  I must admit that I was a bit surprised when Shanna came to me insisting that I coach her.  “I didn’t come here just for the pay check,” she said.  “I want my fair share of your attention to help develop me.  Just because I am your daughter doesn’t mean that you can overlook my needs.”  Clearly, Shanna understood the nature of Catalytic Coaching and the fact that it is something done FOR employees rather than TO them.

What began were two years of very focused discussions on where she was in her career and where she wanted to go.  As it came to pass, her big life dream was not to manage my business.  And when we began working with what she really wanted to do when she grew up, it became obvious that her tenure with my company would be short lived.  As part of a transition plan she helped me find and train an outstanding replacement.  Meanwhile, I helped her brainstorm a business plan and have become the first investor in “Diet-Free” Living, her start-up business.  In January, she moved on to begin her new journey and I transitioned from boss to advisor.

Both Shanna and I regard the time we had together as an experience that helped us grow closer.  I think the formality of the Catalytic Coaching process was a significant part of the reason why.  It gave us a mechanism to clarify, blend and balance personal goals with company needs.

I’ve facilitated coaching discussions between family members in several companies now.  It always turns out to be a positive experience.

The only exception I would make to the coaching of family members has to do with spouses.  I think it takes an exceptional marriage to stand up to the pressure of a direct reporting relationship.   And I’ve not yet been brave enough (some might say crazy enough) to encourage the formality of career coaching.  If anybody out there has done this successfully, I’d love to hear and share your story.  Until further review, however, I’d pass on that opportunity.

Garold Markle is author of Catalytic Coaching: The End of the Performance Review and No More Performance Evaluations!   Gary is also founder and CEO of Energage, Inc.  For more of his teachings go to
This article was first published in Catalytic Connection in February 2008.

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